Ooretoluse Delano | August 20, 2020
With the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the public outrage that followed these unfortunate events, I have been thinking about what it means to be black and African. A common sentiment amongst my fellow Nigerians is this idea that they did not know they were black until they moved to a Western country.
This surprises me.
Whilst growing up in Nigeria meant that I did not have to deal with systemic racism within my country, there are certain racial issues which have permeated even societies in which majority of the population is black. Although I did not have to worry about being refused opportunities or being treated negatively for the colour of my skin, many aspects of my childhood that constantly reminded me that to be black and African were not coveted.
This was evident in the European approved beauty standards which we as black women were taught to desire. Despite being from a black country, I did not grow up loving my features. As a child, I remember constantly looking forward to being old enough to relax my hair, to finally no longer have ‘rough’ and ‘difficult’ hair. I also remember the constant fetishization of lighter complexions which led to many women bleaching their skin. Whilst I was too young to understand that I was learning to hate myself and my features, the inevitable realisation of the Western influence on our beauty standards left me feeling sad, angry, and confused.
Anti-blackness has not only affected our beauty standards but also our minds. There was always a certain level of respect and attention given to foreigners, specifically, white people. They were always treated better, and people assumed them to be more intelligent and wealthier due to their skin colour. Thus, even in a country in which majority of the population was black, I was still aware that I was black, I was aware that my skin colour was not widely accepted, and with it came condescending presumptions and expectations.
Therefore, even though I grew up in an African country, I was still affected by the notion of anti-blackness which seems to have infiltrated every community in the world, and this manifests itself in different ways. The fight against racism is not just a fight for people in Western countries, we are not just standing in solidarity with African Americans, it is our fight too. You are seen and recognised as black before anything else. The way black people are seen and the way we are taught to see ourselves affects us all.